Living Bird Magazine
Black PhoebeSayornis nigricans
- ORDER: Passeriformes
- FAMILY: Tyrannidae
The Black Phoebe is a dapper flycatcher of the western U.S. with a sooty black body and crisp white belly. They sit in the open on low perches to scan for insects, often keeping up a running series of shrill chirps. Black Phoebes use mud to build cup-shaped nests against walls, overhangs, culverts, and bridges. Look for them near any water source from small streams, to suburbs, all the way to the salt-sprayed rocks and cliffs of the Pacific Ocean.More ID Info
Find This Bird
Within their range, Black Phoebes are common and conspicuous near sources of water and around human development. They usually stay low to the ground and perch in the open, so scan low branches, rocks and shrubs along the edges of streams, lakes, estuaries, and the seashore. The bird’s distinctive tail-pumping can help you recognize it from afar. Black Phoebes very often call out with a shrill, scratchy chip.
- Mosquero Negro (Spanish)
- Moucherolle noir (French)
Black Phoebes do well around humans. They don’t come to feeders, but they may use your backyard as a place to catch insects, or even build nests under eaves of a building, especially if there is water or mud nearby.
- Cool Facts
- Although it mostly eats insects, the Black Phoebe sometimes snatches minnows from the surface of ponds. It may even feed fish to nestlings.
- The male Black Phoebe gives the female a tour of potential nest sites, hovering in front of each likely spot for 5 to 10 seconds. But it’s the female who makes the final decision and does all the nest construction.
- Black Phoebes don’t usually venture outside their breeding and wintering areas, but on rare occasions they are seen as far east as Florida. One misplaced bird showed up in Minnesota in the fall.
- One pair of Black Phoebes got some unwanted house guests when a pair of House Finches moved into their nest. The finches added 5 eggs to the 6 phoebe eggs already there, and the two females alternated incubation duties for an entire week before both species abandoned the nest.
- The oldest Black Phoebe on record was at least 8 years old when it was recaptured and released during banding operations in California.